South Sudan and Causes of Conflict


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After being in the longest war in the horn of Africa, South Sudan was granted its independence being the newest state in the international community. On December 15, 2011 war broke out due to power struggle in the lines of ethnicity. It was sparked when the President of South Sudan Salva Kiir of the Dinka accused the former vice president Riek Machaar of the Nuer of scheming a military coup, of which Machar denied and later became the commander of the rebellion group SPLM/A in Opposition. Salva Kirr had a heavy influence on the people of South Sudan since majority of south Sudanese were of the Dinka tribe, which led to the mass killings of the Nuer by the Dinka’s, civilians were forced to flee the country and become refugees in the neighboring countries. Human rights violations were an everyday reality and committed daily. 

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A catastrophic humanitarian situation left over five million South Sudanese facing food shortage and immoderate spending on conflict has left the nation virtually bankrupt (South Sudan: Army Abuses Spread West, 2016).At a glance one may conclude the conflict was due to political struggles in the lines of ethnicity which it does to some extent, however the root of conflict has several factors that has contributed to a such as combination of a pride arising from international indulgence post-independence and an excess of money meant that the country’s political elites made some catastrophic errors, including shutting down their most treasured natural resource oil a few months after independence of its squabble with the northern Sudanese, cutting of the highest bid of their revenue was insanely crucial as their economy and political status was still fragile.

The SPLM took part Peace Agreement that ended the 22 years long war in 2005. John Garang, who was the chair since its establishment in 1983, three weeks after his inauguration he died in a plane crash as the president of the GoSS. His long-time deputy Salva Kiir took over as president and led the state of South Sudan to independence in 2011. However, prior to the 15th December, Salva Kirr faced a lot of challenges forming the government as he had appointed his closest allies’ positions in the government and leaving out Garang people which was a stab in the back to the people of SPLM. A number were brought back into central positions midway into the interim period as relations between the SPLM and the NCP in the GNU worsened over issues of oil, the undefined North–South boundary, and the disputed Abyei area (Johnson, 2007). 

South Sudan was experiencing sort of a lantent and surface conflict, Salva Kirr and Pagan Amum, who at that time Secretary General of the SPLM had threatened to derail progress towards elections because of their differences which was eventually resolved, with many urging for unity of purpose as the elections and the eventual referendum approached. In addition, the relationship between Salva Kiir and his Vice President Riek Machar was at edge. In fact the two leaders were already strained, and that these differences were overlooked for the sake of unity within the party during the Interim Period (2005-2011). In 2010, the both leaders are said to have supported rival candidates in a number of key electoral positions, particularly the governorships of several states. 

The tautness within the political class exploded when Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amun, and Madam Rebecca Garang, the widow of the late Dr. John Garang, declared their intention to run for the post of Chair of the SPLM, and thus President of the country. President Kiir removed Riek as the vice president in April. In July, he dissolved the government, and suspended SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum on pending corruption investigation. The political crisis in South Sudan is now more than a year old, with no immediate end in sight to the fighting between armed factions. 

What began as a power struggle within the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), reignited factional fighting within the army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), in December 2013. Both the political and military crises had their origins in unresolved tensions following the split in the SPLM/A in the 1990s and the incomplete integration of opposed factions into the army following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. The South Sudanese citizens believed that these tensions would eventually erupt in some form of conflict following independence in 2011, but the rapid escalation and intensity of fighting had taken them by surprise. (Johnson, The Political Crisis in South Sudan, 2014).

Oil is richest natural resource in South Sudan, Ninety-eight percent of the government annual operating budget and 80 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is derived from oil, making South Sudan the most oil reliant country in the world (Nyathon et al, 2006).one would say it’s a blessing but in the real sense it’s a curse to the people of South Sudan. the UN imposed sanctions on South Sudanese oil-related entities IN March 2016, declaring that their revenues had instigated the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis. The tension was at its peak struggle for South Sudan’s independence, the South Sudanese accused the Sudan government of arming various ethnic groups which caused mistrust, between the Dinka and Nuer.

 The have had historical rivalry for years over natural resource such as land and water turned into an extensive war, after the President Salva Kiir of the Dinka dismissed the vice president Riek Machar in July 2013, a Nuer. This sparked off a conflict, which was overshadowed with ethnic terms. Support for Kiir and Machar was not restricted to their respective ethnic groups, and fighting often raged around control of oil, which accounts for 98 percent of South Sudan’s budget. The conflict is therefore not a simple, binary competition between the Government and SPLM/A in Opposition. It’s a multifaceted war where allegiances shift rapidly depending on access to resources, unaddressed grievances and the opportunity for individual politicians and military commanders to exploit the situation to press for military and political advantage.

The ethnic composition of South Sudan is estimated to be more than 56 ethnic groups and nearly 600 sub- ethnic groups divided into tribes, ancestry and clans. These ethnic groups may be divided into three broad ethnolinguistic affiliation. They include the Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic and the South-Western Sudanic groups. The Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk, which belong to the Nilotic group, and are the dominant group as they are renowned politically. These three ethnic groups are all pastoralist with the Dinka and the Nuer being mobile while the Shilluk are settlers. Cattle are an important aspect of their lives often used as a form of currency for settling debts, bridal price as well as social status. 

Conflicts are often the result of disputes over scarce resources, such as grazing land, water and settlement areas, as the Nilotic communities in Central Sudan have been displaced from their ancient lands. These resources remain persistent due to lack of strong authority capable of distributing and regulating the consumptions of those resources. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement(CPA) was signed in 2005 in Naivasha, Kenya, between the Sudanese government led by the National Congress Party(NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement(SPLM), which ended the long- lasting North- South War. 

The agreement resulted to the separation South Sudan from Sudan in 2011 making it an independent state. Despite the end of the war between the North and the South over two decades, the CPA did not attempt to resolve the internal / inter- communal conflicts in the South. In addition, the CPA process focused on the two parties that dominated the conflict, the SPLM / A on the one hand and the National Congress Party6(NCP or GoSS), on the other ( Dreef & Wagner, 2013).

ACR Conflict Resolution Action was established on 24 March 2014 and legally registered by the South Sudanese Government in 2015 to mitigate conflicts between the affected communities in South Sudan. The Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) was signed between the Government of South Sudan by the President Salva Kiir and the armed opposition group referred to as the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army – in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) by Riek Machar in August 2015. The pact was to reinstate the peace, security and stability in South Sudan following a political dispute within the ruling Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), which broke out into violence in December 2013. This was hardly 3 years after the secession of South Sudan from the Sudan in July 2011. 

The political dispute rapidly lapsed into open warfare, which woefully came to be personified between the two leaders. The Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) signed in 2015, the key actors to the pact signed because of the immense international pressure they were under rather than out of conviction of the provisions of ARCSS. Both leaders felt obligated to sign the agreement it was not willing, considering none of them felt committed to the agreement, its implementation was taken as no one’s responsibility. Each party expected external forces to exert pressure on the other party, regarding the provisions that the other party had reservations about or that it felt would threaten its existing privilege (Blackings, 2018)

IGAD received support from the international community such as the UN, to mitigate the conflict. The IGAD talks held in Addis Ababa on 17 August 2015 provided an opportunity to bring the conflicting parties together to resolve the many issues surrounding the South Sudan conflict. Unfortunately, the loosely linked the command chains in dozens of armed groups makes it impossible for leader to claim command of the rebel groups. A National Dialogue was initiated by President Salva Kiir in 2016, unfortunately it was unsuccessful because the opposition declared Salva Kiir being bias and lack of inclusiveness; accusations that twice in 2016 resulted in the suspension of talks. 

The military crisis has masked the country’s other outlook to a level that most cannot even foresee an existing economy for South Sudan(SS). The country now has the highest inflation in the world; the government has even used aid workers to tax them to raise funds for operations. The government now uses a rapid procedure to sell its oil in advance. Indeed, observers argued that the government had already spent all the money from its expected oil sales in 2018. In short, the government has been broken before the end of the year until December 2018 (Modi, 2018).

For the process of peace to have a get go, there should be willingness from both parties and have the welfare and interest of the South Sudanese people at heart. The international community need to exert concerted effort to support and engage with the parties at every step of the way to make the peace process viable. When ARCSS was signed, each side of the agreement hoped that the international community would take precedence over areas where reservations existed. This pressure never occurred and both sides were left to their own equipment. 

They did the best they could: buy time while the entire agreement was not implemented. To have a functional and accountable government in place if peace is to be achieved in South Sudan. This needs to be supported by the international community, which demonstrates determination and fairness. To have a functional and accountable government in place if peace is to be achieved in South Sudan. 

This needs to be supported by the international community, which demonstrates determination and fairness. The longer the international community waits to solve the issue the more complex the conflict becomes, additionally the international community ‘s adoption of an immediate, robust, impartial and uncompromising position is the only way to tackle South Sudan ‘s structural problems. This includes weak institutions, volatile ethnic and community relations and a dysfunctional security apparatus that is unprofessional and ethnically bent.

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